Tag Archives: Digital First Media

New Journal Register Co. Owner Aims to Carve Up Contracts

28 Mar

wikimedia.orgBALKING AT CONTRACT terms they call outrageous, some 175 Journal Register Company employees in Michigan voted to lead a boycott of the papers [Detroit Free Press].

Since early March, the Detroit Newspaper Guild has been in negotiations with 21st CMH Acquisition Co., the Alden Global Capital unit that received approval last week to buy Journal Register Co.’s assets out of bankruptcy.

Poynter printed a Guild bulletin outlining the company’s demands, which include a 15 percent pay cut and more than doubling employees’ health insurance premiums, according to the Detroit Free Press.

From the Detroit Free Press story:

Louis Mleczko, president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, which represents employees at the Macomb Daily and the Daily Tribune, said the employment terms are outrageous. He said Macomb Daily employees took a pension freeze and a 12.5% pay cut four years ago and have gotten just 2.5% back.

“They took tremendous sacrifice to help keep this entity afloat, but now (the company) decided to take on the unions and get rid of them and gut their contracts,” Mleczko said.

The contracts expires March 31. Workers have authorized a possible strike or other labor action once the contracts end.

The Post’s iPad Ski Guide Gets Some Props

30 Nov
The Denver Post

The Denver Post

IN CASE YOU missed it, The Denver Post released a really nice iPad edition of the Ski Guide that got a good review from Talking New Media, which calls it “by far the best thing I’ve seen out of MediaNews Group or the Journal Register Company.”

And for those who don’t have in iPad, the post has a video of the app in action — did I already say it’s really nice?

The site also published an update with more “insider” information later Nov. 27:

I think their effort is far more interesting and exciting now that I know more what they are doing in Denver.

And a tip of the hat to Post editor Greg Moore for posting the link to the review on The Water Cooler.

Here’s a link to the free Ski Guide app on iTunes LINK

Journal Register Likely to Reduce Print at Some Papers

20 Sep

Rick Edmonds on Poynter: “Journal Register likely to reduce print to three days a week at some papers,” Sept. 20, 2012.

 The new slimmed-down Journal Register company, being pieced together in a bankruptcy proceeding, is likely to reduce print frequency at several of its 20 dailies.

“I would consider and am considering a reduction in print frequency in some markets — (which ones) to be determined,” CEO John Paton wrote me in an e-mail interview earlier this week. “I think it makes sense to think about the frequency of print as print revenues decline and digital revenues increase.”

>snip<

Paton declined to discuss what miscalculations in a bankruptcy plan three years ago, under different management, left the company with too much debt to carry again so soon. He also said it would be wrong to assume the same issues are creating an equal financial problem at MediaNews Group, the much larger chain controlled by Alden and managed by Paton’s Digital First company for just over a year.

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Los Links: More on Journal Register’s Bankruptcy

7 Sep

For your reading pleasure, more stories in the wake of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy announcement.

In Denver Post & MediaNews Group: Fallout from partner Journal Register Company bankruptcy? Westword’s Michael Roberts reports that, according to “an insider,” there was some dissension in the ranks once the bloom was off the Digital First rose:

By summertime, however, our source reported grumbling over what was perceived as top-heaviness at Digital First Media, with new senior executive hires during a time of layoffs at MediaNews Group papers around the country. The fear: MediaNews Group was being used as a cash cow to build up DFM. Our source also noted tension between MediaNews Group types and folks imported by Paton, many of them with Journal Register Company roots.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram writes in Newspaper restructuring — think steel, cars and airlines, the newspaper industry’s transformation will need to be measured in decades:

If there is a poster child for the “digital first” newspaper movement, it is probably Journal Register Co., which manages a chain of dailies and weeklies in the eastern U.S. John Paton took the helm as CEO after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, and implemented a wide range of digital-first moves — and yet parent company Digital First Media just announced that Journal Register Co. is filing for bankruptcy for a second time. The not-so-hidden message in all this is that despite all the pain of the last few years, the restructuring of newspapers isn’t even close to being over: as we’ve seen with the large structural changes in the steel industry, car makers and the airline market, transforming an industry with massive legacy costs is a long and bloody process. What emerges at the end remains to be seen.

In Journal Register, future-of-news star, is bankrupt again, Ryan Chittum writes for the Columbia Journalism Review that the numbers John Paton mentioned in his announcement are meaningless without some context:

The reason we don’t know more about the numbers is that JRC, as a closely held company, releases financial information only selectively—in sharp contrast to its “open journalism” philosophy.

>snip<

Paton, for instance, has repeatedly said digital revenues at JRC were up some large percentage since he took over. He does so again in his bankruptcy note. Yes, but from what to what? Those are big numbers all right, but 235 percent of not much is still not that much, and its worth noting that JRC’s digital revenues were far below industry average when Paton took over. It’s much easier to grow fast off a low base, and Paton has used the company’s privately held status to cherry pick positive numbers without having to paint a full picture—one that definitely didn’t include an imminent bankruptcy.

A former Journal Register employee wrote a letter about the bankruptcy announcement that is posted on Romenesko:

From RACHEL JACKSON, former Journal Register employee: The [Journal Register] Chapter 11/sale announcement does not surprise me in the least – and the employee you quoted as calling this “horseshit” is exactly right.

Lastly, in the wake of the bankruptcy announcement there has been some grumbling (perhaps it’s contagious) about the fact that Project Thunderdome is located in Manhattan rather than, say, Willoughby, Ohio, where real estate costs are presumably less. Jim Brady explains the reasoning in a piece by Adrienne LaFrance for Nieman Journalism Lab, Why does Project Thunderdome have to be in New York City?

“You want to be in a position to get the best possible people you can,” Brady said. “I’d love to get in an argument with anybody who says there isn’t a lot of journalistic talent in New York City.”

Carry on.

Is Alden Global Capital Souring on Newspapers?

6 Sep

From a piece by Martin Langeveld at Nieman Journalism Lab: Journal Register’s bankruptcy is strategic, all right — but for whom?

In an in-depth analysis of the possible implications of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy filing, Langeveld writes that while Alden Global Capital’s initial strategy seemed to be one of consolidation, the hedge fund might have changed its mind — it has shed around half of its newspaper holdings in the past year.

Last year in July, I estimated Alden’s total media investments to be about $750 million. Today, after the various sales and counting JRC’s value as zero, those holdings are probably down to about $300 million, and it seems clear that Alden would just as soon get out completely — at least from newspapers.

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Journal Register Co. Files for Bankruptcy

5 Sep

UPDATES AT BOTTOM OF POST:

  • John Paton’s letter to employees and FAQ
  • Steve Buttry’s take
  • Running commentary on Romenesko
  • Journal Register Co.’s reboot on Nieman Journalism Lab
  • Story by The Denver Post’s Andy Vuong
  • Analysis of the news on Poynter.org

FROM JOHN PATON’S blog: “Another Tough Step”

Today Digital First Media announced Journal Register Company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to implement a prompt sale.

We expect the auction and sale process to take about 90 days, and I am pleased to tell you the Company has a signed stalking horse bid for Journal Register Company from 21st CMH Acquisition Co., an affiliate of funds managed by Alden Global Capital LLC.

So why file Chapter 11?

The Company exited the 2009 restructuring with approximately $225 million in debt and with a legacy cost structure, which includes leases, defined benefit pensions and other liabilities that are now unsustainable and threaten the Company’s efforts for a successful digital transformation.

From 2009 through 2011, digital revenue grew 235% and digital audience more than doubled at Journal Register Company. So far this year, digital revenue is up 32.5%. Expenses by year’s end will be down more than 9.7% compared to 2009.

At the same time, as total expenses were down overall, the Company has invested heavily in digital with digital expenses up 151% since 2009. Journal Register Company has and will continue to invest in the future.

But also from 2009 to 2011 Journal Register Company’s print advertising revenue declined 19% and print advertising represents more than half of the  of the Company’s revenues. Print advertising for the newspaper industry declined approximately 17% over the same time period, according to the Newspaper Association of America. As well, both print circulation and circulation revenue have also declined over the same time period.

Since 2009, printing facilities have been reduced from 14 to 6; 9 of the 50 owned facilities have been sold and 8 distribution centers have been outsourced.

During the same time period, debt was reduced by 28% with the Company currently servicing in excess of $160 million of debt.

All of the digital initiatives and expense efforts are consistent with the Company’s Digital First strategy and while the Journal Register Company cannot afford to halt its investments in its digital future it can now no longer afford the legacy obligations incurred in the past.

Many of those obligations, such as leases, were entered into in the past when revenues, at their peak, were nearly twice as big as they are today and are no longer sustainable.

Revenues in 2005 were about two times bigger than projected 2012 revenues. Defined Benefit Pension underfunding liabilities have grown 52% since 2009.

After a lot of thought, the Board of Directors concluded a Chapter 11 filing was the best course of action.

Journal Register Company’s filing will have no impact on the day-to-day operation of Journal Register Company, Digital First Media or MediaNews Group during the sale process. They will continue to operate their business and roll out new initiatives.

If you have questions just ask – you know how to reach me.

John

John Paton
Chief Executive Officer
Digital First Media

John Paton’s e-mail address is jpaton@digitalfirstmedia.com and he can be found on Twitter at @jxpaton.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Los Links: Break The Chains, But Don’t Wait Too Long

8 Jul

Want to save local newspapers? Then break the chains that hold them back
In this piece for OJR: The Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles writes that economies of scale don’t work in the newspaper business anymore and it’s time to break up the chains.

Locally-focused news publications must become truly local, with local information, produced by local reporters with local ties, sold to local advertisers by a local sales staff who work for a local owner.

News Corp Split, Buffett’s Bet Top Year of Big Media Ownership Changes
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has a nice wrap-up of media transactions over the last couple of years.

According to the investment banking firm of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which monitors newspaper transactions, a total of 71 daily newspapers were sold as part of 11 different transactions during 2011, the busiest year for sales since 2007.

There’s a mention of Alden Global Capital’s acquisition of the Journal Register Company, and “Alden Global has also invested in several other newspaper organizations,” including MediaNews Group (two of the seven MediaNews Group directors are from Alden Global Capital).

And be sure to check out the list of Who Owns the News Media that covers newspapers, TV and radio.

The Fissures Are Growing for Papers
The New York Times’ David Carr writes about “cracks in publishing operations,” one of the bigger ones being underfunded pensions that threaten companies’ financial health. “There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week.”

Those of us who work inside the racket like to think of our business as unique, but with underfunded pension plans, unserviceable debt and legacy manufacturing processes and union agreements, the newspaper industry looks a lot like, well, steel, autos and textiles.

Report: How to Build Trust In the Digital Age
Mediabistro’s 10,000 Words column has a piece by Mona Zhang about a report that examines the quality of journalism in the digital age, which “investigates the notions of objectivity and impartiality in the digital world, and whether or not we can trust the new forms of journalism that are emerging as a result of new technologies.”

He (Richard Sambrook) writes that as the traditional business models erode, there has been an increase in “journalism of assertion” and “journalism of affirmation”—models that rely on immediacy and volume, and affirming the beliefs of its audience.

Newspapers Chronicle Lives of Returning Veterans
Nu Yang wrote a piece for Editor & Publisher about the American Homecomings project by The Denver Post and Digital First Media.

The site is really a public service project,” (Lee Ann) Colacioppo said. “We’re doing it for the veterans who are returning and to serve that community … the feedback we’ve received so far is from readers thanking us for sharing these stories and veterans who appreciate the attention to the subject.

And a link to the American Homecomings project since there doesn’t seem to be one in the story.

Lastly, here’s a fun little infographic about the consolidation of media in America.

Denver Post, Contra Costa Times Revamp Story Editing With Fewer Copy Editors

23 May

From Poynter.org, May 23, 2012:

In some ways, the Denver Post and Contra Costa Times’ cutbacks in copyediting, announced last month and now final, is a common story these days. Less common are the other changes they’re making in how they handle print stories.

The Denver Post is eliminating its copy desk and moving away from an assembly-line editing process. Instead, reporters and editors on each desk will take stories from reporting to publishing, online and in print.

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Project Thunderdome: Coming To A Theater Near You

23 Mar

A LONE NEWS-GATHERING ORGANIZATION SEARCHING FOR A NEW BUSINESS MODEL ... A TRIBE OF LOST PUBLISHERS WAITING FOR A HERO ... IN AN INDUSTRY BATTLING TO SURVIVE, THEY FACE ADVERTISERS DETERMINED TO STRAY.
HOLD OUT FOR JOHN PATON. THIS IS HIS GREATEST ADVENTURE.

 
AS PROJECT THUNDERDOME moves closer to becoming a reality, let’s take a look at it. Always a good place to start:

WHAT IS IT?

In a nutshell, it’s centralizing production of non-local content. In a post titled News Media’s New Role As Both Medium And Messenger In A World Of Partnerships on his blog in December, Digital First CEO John Paton wrote:

By centralizing all non-local content creation and production we are able to reduce costs while putting more resources back into local coverage increasing what is already an important competitive advantage.

Digital First Editor in Chief Jim Brady, who is heading up the project, put it this way to Street Fight in October:

We can’t have people at 18 different papers finding, editing and paginating a story about the war in Afghanistan, or a movie review or a Wimbledon roundup. We have to find a way to provide that information centrally to our papers so that they can focus on local issues and coverage.

That centrally produced content is for both print and online. As Brady told the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers:

… We’re creating a centralized team to produce that content for all of the local papers and their websites; that will free up a lot of the resources in the building to go back out on the streets and report, as opposed to doing production work.

WHEN WILL IT START OPERATING?

Now, for parts of it. As Brady said in a Q&A with Street Fight on March 13:

What is the status of Thunderdome?

We’re starting to roll out some verticals like transportation. We’re going to launch a health section in the next couple of days. We’re going to roll out one a month for the next six months or so. We’re starting to hire staff who are helping get it up and running, but it’s not in its full form yet.

How far along are you in the transformation? Can you give a percentage?

Thunderdome is going to be a huge part of what we do in the next few months even if it’s not fully rolled out. A lot of the products that we’re going to build out of Thunderdome are already in play and in the process of being built. We’re bringing in a new content management system that’s already in half the JRC papers and it will be in the MediaNews papers before long. What we have is a significant amount of large, game-changing projects in the pipeline right now. In terms of percentage, I don’t know, I think we still have 75% of the way to go before all of those things are out the door, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last six months and in the last three especially.

And Project Thunderdome apparently is located in New York City.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT JOBS?

According to Paton, not much, as those people formerly in production roles would be reassigned to local work. That’s just counting bodies — it sounds like job duties could change for some people. As he told the American Journalism Review:

We have hundreds and hundreds of people in production. If you were producing 18 dailies centrally, you’d be doing it with less people and could then repurpose them back into the community and create more local content.

HASN’T THIS BEEN DONE BEFORE?

Yes. As Jon Cooper, a vice president with Digital First, told Nieman Journalism Lab:

Folks have done production hubs; folks have done content bureaus or content sharing, but what we’re really looking to do is to empower local journalism. And part of that is to remove the roadblocks to small operations.

How The Denver Post fits into the puzzle isn’t wholly clear. I’m sure details will be forthcoming.

And of course, some are less optimistic, such as this comment on Street Fight:

Thunderdome sounds like an attempt to make generic content to reward their masters at Alden Global Capital. Lay off as many people as you can, create canned content and then, well, we never got around to local coverage because its, well, been a tough economy. That’s been the Media News playbook for years. John Paton just wants to do it without all that expensive newspaper (and people).

In the meantime, sit back, relax and cue up a little Tina Turner.

Old Dogs, New Tricks And Crappy Newspaper Executives

20 Feb

DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA CEO John Paton addressed the Canadian Journalism Foundation in Toronto on Feb. 16.

From Digital First, Feb. 18, 2012:

>snip<

And now, like many of you, I am struggling hard to teach this old dog new tricks.

Struggling to accept that much of what we know is no longer valid.

And trying to come to grips with the fact that crappy newspaper executives are a bigger threat to journalism’s future than any changes wrought by the Internet.

>snip<

The Journal Register Company – the Company I took over two years ago – and, more recently, MediaNews Group –which we now both run under Digital First Media – could be the poster kids for what ails the US newspaper industry.

We count our products in the hundreds.

Our employees in the thousands – ten thousand actually.

Our audience in the millions – 57 million actually.

And our revenues are counted in the “Bs” as in billions.

And, it is profitable. With better margins than an average Dow Jones listed company.

We have titles pre-dating the American Revolution and can stretch our lineage back to at least one predecessor title co-founded by Benjamin Franklin. Well, just about stretch if we stand on a high stool.

Another title was around to publish George Washington’s obit.

And our core mission is enshrined in the nation’s Constitution.

And none of the above will save it or other companies like it – unless we and our industry profoundly change how we do business.

>snip<

Because change we must.

And if we are going to change we are also going to have to admit that the Print model is broken. Don’t believe me – then read any of the newspaper company Chapter 11 filings in the United States or Clay Shirky.

If you haven’t read Shirky’s essay Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable and you are in the newspaper business then brother let me tell you – you are not paying enough attention.

His message is simple:

“If the old model is broken, what will work in its place? The answer is nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke.”

And his message is clear:

You don’t tinker or tweak a broken model. You start again anew. And I would add build upon our foundations.

To do this you have to let go of those things we once held true. Like:

– We are the gatekeepers of information.

– That we are the agenda setters and that we decide what news is and what is not.

– And that we keep the Outside world outside and only let in the chosen few – people like us.

So, if we can admit the Print model is broken what else must we recognize isn’t working anymore.

I think it is this:

As career journalists we have entered a new era where what we know and what we traditionally do has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero.

Our traditional journalism models and our journalistic efforts are inefficient and up against the Crowd – armed with mobile devices and internet connections – incomplete.

Our response to date as an industry has been as equally inefficient and in many cases emotional.

“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone” is not much of a business model.

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